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How Withdrawal Changes Sleep Patterns

woman in withdrawal struggling to sleep on a sofa

Updated on

Eliminating drug use is a smart step toward a healthy lifestyle, but it’s rarely easy. After prolonged use, the body becomes physically dependent on drugs and withdrawal is a response to the absence of the drug. The withdrawal process often causes physical and emotional discomfort.

Some of the challenges of withdrawal include:

  • Feeling achy
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Rapid heartbeat and high blood pressure

These symptoms can be disruptive and make it difficult to sleep well. Sleep is one of the most important factors for maintaining good health, and without adequate sleep, recovery may be more difficult. Insomnia can cause exhaustion, immune system suppression, and contribute to stress. It may even cause a relapse for people who find it too difficult to deal with the symptoms of insomnia. Sometimes, people going through withdrawal symptoms will sleep more than usual.

The lack of or increase in sleep can change sleep patterns from normal sleep to erratic. And overall, quitting the use of drugs can change the body’s natural rhythm, as using drugs or drinking can affect sleep patterns and the body works toward a more normal sleep pattern during recovery.

When under the influence of substances, the brain creates less dopamine, and during withdrawal, the body is still working to get back to normal dopamine production levels. It can take a month or a month and a half to get back to producing an adequate level of dopamine. Without enough dopamine production, stress can be a problem.

It’s possible for people recovering from drug addiction to experience disturbed sleep patterns for months during and after recovery, but generally, the first few days are the worst for sleep and other symptoms.

Withdrawal insomnia is typically temporary, and sleep patterns should return to normal as part of the recovery process. However, trouble sleeping can make recovery more difficult than it has to be.

Practicing healthy sleep habits, even during drug withdrawal, can make it easier to sleep well and establish a more healthy lifestyle. Good sleep during withdrawal can be a particular challenge, but focusing on getting much-needed rest can help support recovery.

Follow these suggestions for improving sleep quality during withdrawal

Use light therapy to realign the circadian rhythm. The body’s natural clock relies on cues to determine what time it is and whether the body and brain should be active or at rest. During the day when it’s light outside, the body should be active. At night in the dark, it’s time to rest. Getting exposure to light, whether artificial UV light or the outdoors, can be helpful for reinforcing daytime. Spend time outside being active, such as taking a brief walk, or simply open up curtains inside. At night, take care to minimize light exposure, dimming overhead lights or turning them off completely to signal that it’s dark and time to wind down.

Seek treatment for withdrawal. Some people dealing with addiction recovery benefit from medications that treat drug withdrawal. These medications can make symptoms less severe and speed the recovery process. It’s a good idea to consider sleep medication if continually struggling with sleep during withdrawal.

Follow a relaxing bedtime routine. Withdrawal can be stressful, and stress often makes sleep more difficult. It’s tough to relax and drift off to sleep while feeling stressed or anxious. If stress is a problem, be sure to focus on relaxing activities that can make it easier to feel calm and fall asleep. Drinking tea, taking a warm bath, reading a book, listening to music, practicing yoga, or doing meditation are good choices for relaxation before bed.

Maintain regular sleep times. Another way to reinforce a healthy circadian rhythm is to simply follow a regular schedule. Going to sleep and waking up around the same time each night and day can be helpful for resetting the body’s natural clock to a more healthy schedule. Consistency is key, even on weekends and vacations.

Sleep in a healthy environment. Bedrooms should be clean, quiet, dark, cool, and comfortable for the best sleep. A mattress that’s appropriate for individual needs will offer the highest quality of sleep.

Withdrawal from drug or alcohol addiction is tough, and insomnia may come with the territory, complicating an already difficult situation. Healthy sleep can support good recovery and maintaining a drug-free lifestyle in the long term. It’s important to practice healthy sleep habits during recovery for an easier experience and a more healthy future.

Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.

  • Our mission is to offer a safe, non-triggering, recovery-focused resource for anyone who has struggled with addiction or has helped someone who struggled. We aim to provide articles that help bring awareness to addiction as a disease and honor the recovery process through insightful and motivating topics. Together, we can all work to inspire each other and bring thoughtfulness and truth to the recovery journey.

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